By Michael Kanazawa
There is no better opportunity to lay the ground work for turning big ideas into big results than in the first 100 days as a new leader. By the end of 100 days everyone will be done sizing you up as a leader, the organization will either be on a new trajectory or settle back down into the current track, and you will have set the stage for your next 2-3 years as a leader. You have a huge opportunity when taking over as a new leader.
First is the chance to change the strategic direction of the organization. People are actually expecting it, so the shift will be much easier than at any other time. Political structures will be in flux, so long-standing tough decisions that have been avoided will be easier to drive through to closure. And, even as tough decisions are made, everyone will be looking at you as the new hope for growth and improvement. People want you to be successful because it means better things for them as well. So, they will be ready to follow your lead. With so much opportunity (and risk of missed opportunities) at hand, it is worth carefully planning your first 100 days to get everything out of it that you possibly can. Korn Ferry published research on the pitfalls and tips for success in leading through the first 100 days based on views about leaders in the Americas, Europe, and Asia. Below are statics from two questions they asked.
What is the most common mistake that senior executives make during their first 100 days?
- Failing to establish strategic priorities – 23.5%
- Committing cultural gaffes and/or political suicide – 16.4%
- Waiting too long to implement change – 15.8%
- Not spending enough face time with subordinates – 14.2%
- Getting sidetracked by fire drills — having a short-term focus – 10.9%
- Hesitating to make tough personnel decisions – 9.8%
What one thing — above all else — must a senior executive do in their first 100 days in order to succeed?
- Assemble and solidify a team – 25.1%
- Articulate a statement of vision and goals – 24.6%
- Identify and address what’s most important to the CEO, board of directors and other key executives – 15.8%
- Understand and adapt to the new culture – 13.7%
- Identify the leverage points and the metrics for success – 9.8%
- Achieve several quick successes – 4.9%
- Fix obvious, nagging problems quickly – 3.8%
These tips and pitfalls are very useful to understand, but only become practical when you can build them into a First 100 Days action plan for yourself. Time will fly by and without a hard schedule the calendar will run out before you’ve addressed everything. There will be plenty of fire drills and unfortunately purposeful distractions in your path to accomplishing the big shift you need to in this critical time. Below is a well tested, streamlined set of actions you can use to build your 100 day plan. It is based on applying the ACT Process, outlined in our book Big Ideas to Big Results, to the case of new leaders taking charge. And if you notice, fixing small, incremental quick fixes are listed at less than 5% of mentions. They need to be handled, but aren’t nearly as important to your success as getting the bigger elements of the overall team, strategic direction and alignment of top executives and the board handled first.
First 100 Days Action Plan Checklist
- Individually meet each direct report team member and call them into a commitment to lay the foundation for the next 2-3 years with you.
- Architect your 100 day plan steps and share it with everyone.
- Establish a fact base by engaging the organization in a due diligence process on itself, looking at the business from an internal as well as external perspective. This includes listening to customers and non-customers.
- Set up 2 working sessions with your team (at least 4-8 hours each) to confront reality and question the direction. This work will help you leverage the best thinking of the team and also get a good read on your people.
- Identify Quick Start initiatives that can be treated immediately and will show a bias for speed and action as well as puts change in motion early.
- Conclude with a working session with you team in the first 30 days with developing a refined direction of vision and goals that is now shared by your direct team as they helped create it.
- Develop a new set of priority strategic initiatives with your direct team, including refined goals for the organization (working session).
- Identify any specific behavior changes needed to successfully drive the new direction and initiatives forward.
- Engage the next level team in a dialogue about how to operationalize the strategic initiatives and live the required behaviors.
- Starting at the top of the organization, reset personal commitments, performance standards, and compensation plans to support the new direction and initiatives.
- Engage your direct team in resetting their commitments in another working session.
- Engage leaders at all levels in resetting priorities and commitments in a rapid cascade taking no more than 3-4 weeks to complete. Leverage the natural chain of command one level at a time to drive real change. One big speech from the top and staff-led programs won’t work.
- Finally, by watching how your direct team has engaged in strategic thinking, how they’ve played with the rest of your team in developing the plans and how they engaged their organizations in driving the changes, you will have all that you need to make any required personnel shifts. Make all of the major changes in leadership before the 100 days run out.
Designing these elements into your 100 day plan will keep your focus on setting strategic priorities, assessing your team, engaging the full organization, and getting started quickly – all keys to success. In the whirlwind of activities in taking over a leadership position in a new organization, it is impossible to keep everything that is important top of mind. Following a proven process, like ACT, and applying it to this critical time can help bring some order and more impact to your next challenge.